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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hip And Inclusive: Where Public Radio Thrives in Canada

I received this note from Ken Regan, general manager at a terrific non-CBC, public radio station in Edmonton - CKUA. Full disclosure: growing up in Edmonton, I thought CKUA was a model for how radio ought to be.

 Hello Jeffrey .... enjoyed your take on CBC 1,2,3. As General Manager of the CKUA Radio Network (Province-wide in Alberta), and appreciating your comments about NPR in the US (I don't disagree), I feel obligated to point you in the direction of our own humble, listener-funded service, from which much of Radio Two's format was culled.

I agree with you about the contextual stuff and it's why, although CBC has essentially copied CKUA's very successful format (almost to a T), they have not been able to master the 'craft' part of producing great music programs (except in the case of Espace Musique, as you point out).

I should also mention that while we do play contemporary music, our overall palette is much larger than CBC's and we never play anything simply because it is contemporary. In fact, because our format defines eclectic, new artists must be able to hold their own with 'the greats' because at any time you may hear Ella Fitzgerald, followed by Neil Young, followed by Paul Robeson, followed by a new artist; and believe it or not, our programmers can (usually) make it work. Why? Because we provide substantive context.

In fact, providing substantive context around the music is what our programmers do best - many of them being professional and/or amateur musicians of long standing themselves, or musicologists, at least by instinct - but in all cases, they are passionate aficionados of great music of all genres and locales. Unlike CBC on-air staff, 'some of whom' have musical backgrounds, CKUA personnel do not rely largely on the compilation of their program materials (music) by Producers, Associate Producers, script writers, background briefers and researchers.

CKUA announcers research and prepare their entire programs from scratch every day, utilizing CKUA's library of more than 1.5-million pieces of music collected over eight decades. We call it "hand rolled radio". In this way they not only become intimate with the subject matter, they "grow" their repertoire of knowledge and appreciation daily. They can then pass their own knowledge and appreciation on to the listeners - as opposed to being told what to play when, and having some research wag finding the latest cute, gossipy, or otherwise superficial items from the Internet, to construct the talk-points about the artists and music being played.

If you want evidence for your argument and evidence of what I'm saying - give CKUA a listen.You'll see why even in the conservative heartland, a genuinely progressive cultural entity like CKUA can not only survive for 83 years, but can earn annual revenues of $3-million dollars from voluntary giving by Alberta's population of about 4.4-million people - something made more remarkable by the fact that the same people who financially support CKUA to this level can receive the product entirely for free.

There are lesson here for CBC, but I take comfort from the fact they won't bother or care to learn them and as such CKUA's future, even being subject as it is to the occasional capriciousness of charitable giving, is secure.  ... Love your blog, by the way.

Ken Regan
General Manager
CKUA Radio Network
(780) 428 - 2020

1 comment:

  1. What you say about contextualizing the music is a really critical missing element on the new school Radio 2.

    Still, do you really think that the 'format' was taken directly from your specific station? Your programming schedule looks like campus radio sector 101 to me.